SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Kenneth Humphrey, a 64-year-old San Francisco resident who has been in jail for four months because he is unable to post $350,000 bail, is taking on the California’s money bail system.
Humphrey was arrested in May after he allegedly followed his neighbor into his home and stole a bottle of cologne along with $5. Additionally, because Humphrey has two prior felony convictions — from over 14 years ago — a third felony conviction would mean that he may die in prison.
But San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and the non-profit Civil Rights Corps filed a challenge on Humphrey’s behalf, arguing that a judge violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process when he set the bond amount beyond Humphrey’s means without giving considering his ability to pay or non-monetary alternatives.
Adachi announced Friday that the state appeals court, in response to their challenge, has ordered the California Attorney General to explain why Humphrey should remain behind bars. The Attorney General has until October 1 to respond.
The California Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to CBS San Francisco’s request for comment on Friday.
Should the appellate court rule in Humphrey’s favor, the practice of using high money bail to detain poor people without giving them detention hearings — as required by the U.S. Constitution — would come to an end, according to the public defender’s office.
“It is fundamentally unfair to lock people up solely because they are too poor to buy their freedom,” Adachi said.
Chesa Boudin, a San Francisco deputy public defender who also serves on the board of the Civil Rights Corps. maintains that in lieu of using evidence-based findings, judges are using access to money to determine who will or will not be released from jail.
“This system has nothing to do with public safety, because it allows dangerous rich people to buy their freedom while incarcerating poor people who pose little or no risk,” Boudin said.
Furthermore, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office pointed to the findings of a 2017 report by the Quattrone Center at Penn State, which found that people of color in San Francisco are being booked on comparatively more serious charges than white people suspected of the same crimes.
The more serious charges result in more jail time and more serious convictions for African-Americans, including Humphrey, according to the public defender’s office.
The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office is seeking Humphrey’s immediate release from jail.
A Human Rights Watch report this year also found that California’s system of pretrial detention and arbitrarily-decided bail may be violating international human rights law.
Those who oppose ending California’s money bail system argue that posting bail pressures defendants to show up for their court dates.
A state bill that would have reformed the state’s bail system stalled in the legislature this summer.
By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.